Practical Christianity by A.W. Pink
Part 4: God’s Best in the Christian Life
Chapter 13-Enjoying God’S Best
Since God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, to speak of an enjoying of His best (rather than His second or third best) and missing His best, strikes some as meaningless if not erroneous expressions. Before proceeding farther let us explain what we intend by "enjoying God’s best." We mean (as we have written before) for the saint to have daily communion with God, to walk in the light of His countenance, for His Word to be sweet unto our taste, light to our understanding, strength to the inner man. It is for prayer to be a delight, for answers of peace to be received without intermission, for the channel of supplies to remain unchoked, open. It is to have the mind stayed upon Him, to have a conscience void of offence, to have full assurance of our acceptance in Christ. It is for our graces to be kept healthy and vigorous, so that faith, hope, love, meekness, patience, zeal, are in daily exercise. And such should be the experience of every Christian.
By God’s "best" we mean a personal experience of His approbation; a manifest enjoyment of His favour in grace, in providence, and in nature. It is not to be limited unto the receiving of His special favors in a spiritual way, but includes as well His interpositions on our temporal behalf. It is to have the blessing of the Lord upon our lives, in all their varied aspects and relations, upon the soul and body alike. It is to enjoy the sense of His approval, and have Him showing Himself strong in our behalf. Though it does not mean that such a one will be exempted from the ordinary vicissitudes and trials of life, but rather that such will be sanctified unto him and result in increased blessing, for they not only make a way for God to put forth His power in delivering him from them or elevating his heart above them, but they also serve for the developing of his graces and provide opportunities for him to "glorify Him in the fire"; nevertheless, it does mean that such a one will escape those troubles and afflictions in which the follies of so many Christians involve them: it does mean that he will be immune from those sore chastisements which disobedience and a course of backsliding necessarily entail.
Before considering those just requirements of God which must be met if we are to enjoy His best, let us point out that the particular aspect of truth which is here engaging our attention concerns not the Divine decrees, but rather the Divine government: for the one consists solely of the exercise of God’s sovereign will, whereas the other is concerned also with the discharge of our responsibility. In no sense whatever is there the slightest failure in God’s accomplishment of His eternal purpose, either as a whole, or in any of its parts; but in many respects God’s people fail to possess their possessions and enjoy those privileges and blessings to which the blood of Christ entitles them. This subject presents no difficulty to the writer, except the finding of suitable language to accurately express his thoughts; nor should it to the reader. The formation and the effectuation of God’s eternal decrees are in no wise affected by man: he can neither delay nor hasten them. But the present government of this world by God is, in large measure, affected and determined by the actions of men (His own people included), so that in this life they are, to a very considerable extent, made to reap according as they sow, both in spirituals and in temporals.
It is not sufficiently realized that the Bible has far, very far, more to say about this present life than it has about the future one, that it makes known the secrets of temporal felicity as well as everlasting bliss. Granted that the latter is of immeasurably more importance than the former, yet the one is the prelude to the other, and unless God be our satisfying Portion here, He certainly will not be so hereafter. In their zeal to tell men how to escape from Hell and make sure of Heaven, many evangelical preachers have had all too little to say upon our conduct on earth, and consequently many who entertain no doubt whatever that they will inhabit a mansion in the Father’s house, are not nearly so much concerned about their present walk and warfare as they should be; and even though they reach their desired haven, such slackness results in great loss to them now and will do so for ever. The teaching of Holy Writ is the very reverse of the plan followed by many an "orthodox pulpit": it not only gives much prominence to, but in Old and New Testament alike its main emphasis is on, our life in this world, giving instruction how we are to conduct ourselves here now. In like manner, there has been a grievous departure from the Analogy of Faith in the presentation of the attitude of God and His conduct towards men. Few indeed who have stressed the sovereignty of God have given even a proportionate place to His governmental dealings, either with nations or with individuals, the elect or the reprobate. Yet for every passage in His Word which speaks of God’s eternal counsels, there are scores which describe His time dealings, and for every verse which alludes to God’s secret or decretive will, there is a hundred which describe His revealed or preceptive will. Blessed indeed is it to ponder God’s predestinating grace; equally important is it that we study those principles which regulate His providential dealings with us. The governmental ways of God, that is His dealings with us in this life, both in our spiritual and temporal affairs, are determined by something more than an arbitrary sovereignty. God has established an inseparable connection between our conduct and its consequences, and He acts in such a way toward us as to make manifest the pleasure He takes in righteousness and to give encouragement to those performing it; as He evidences His displeasure against the unrighteous and makes us to smart for the same.
It is a very great and serious mistake to conceive of the sovereignty of God as swallowing up all His perfections, and to attribute all His actions unto the mere exercise of His imperial will. Holy Writ does not; nor should we do so. Instead, much is said therein of God’s acting both in mercy and righteousness, for they are the chief principles which regulate His governmental ways. It is true that mercy is shown by mere prerogative (Rom. 9:18), but not so with righteousness. God can no more suspend the operation of His righteousness than He can cease to be. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness" (Ps. 11:7); "the Lord is righteous in all His ways" (Ps. 145:17); "Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne" (Ps. 97:2). It was predicted of the Messiah that "righteousness should be the girdle of His loins" (Isa. 11:5), and we are told that since He loved righteousness and hated iniquity "therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows" (Ps. 45:7). Alas that so many have completely lost the balance between God’s sovereignty and God’s righteousness. It is His righteousness which regulates all His dealings with the sons of men now, as it is "in righteousness He will judge" them in the Day to come. It is His righteousness which requires God to punish vice and reward virtue, and therefore does He bless His obedient children and chasten His refractory ones.
The central thing which we wish to make clear and to impress upon the reader is that God has established an inseparable connection between holiness and happiness, between our pleasing of Him and our enjoyment of His richest blessing; that since we are always the losers by sinning, so we are always the gainers by walking in the paths of righteousness, and that there will be an exact ratio between the measure in which we walk therein and our enjoyment of "the peaceable fruits of righteousness." God has declared "them that honour Me, I will honour" (1 Sam. 2:30), and that expresses the general principle which we are here seeking to explain and illustrate, namely that God’s governmental dealings with us are regulated by our attitude toward Him and our conduct before Him: for in proportion as we honour the Lord, so will He honour us. But suppose we fail to honour God, suppose we do not obtain from Him that grace which He is ever ready to give unto those who earnestly seek it in a right way—what then? Why, we shall not enter into His best for us; we shall miss it. For as the same verse goes on to tell us, "and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed."
"This Book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" (Joshua 1:8). That expresses in plain and simple language the basis on which we may enter into and enjoy God’s best for us. The believer is not to be regulated by his own inclinations or lean unto his own understanding; he is not to be governed by any consideration of expediency or the pleasing of his fellows, but seek to please God in all things, being actuated by a "thus saith the Lord" in everything he does. Nothing less than full and constant obedience to God is what is required of him. However distasteful to the flesh, whatever sneers it may produce from professing Christians, the saint must rigidly and perpetually act by the Rule that God has given him to walk by. In so doing he will be immeasurably the gainer, for the path of obedience is the path of prosperity. Conformity unto the revealed will of God may indeed entail trial, nevertheless it will be richly compensated in this life, both in spiritual and temporal bounties.
It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that the path of God’s precepts is the way of blessing. Though the treading thereof incurs the frowns of the profane world, and the criticisms of not a few in the professing world, yet it ensures the smile and benediction of our Master! Those words "for then shalt thou make thy way prosperous" are from the mouth of "the God of Truth" and are to be received by us without the slightest quibbling, and treasured in our hearts. The "prosperity" does not always immediately appear, for faith has to be tried and patience developed, yet in the long run it will most surely be found that in keeping the Divine commandments "there is great reward" (Ps. 19:11). So Joshua found it: he adhered strictly to the Divine Law, and God crowned his labours with success; and that, dear reader, is recorded for our encouragement. Yet if we would prosper as Joshua did, then we must act as he did! That conditional promise made to Joshua was very far from being a special one made to him only—rather does it belong equally to every servant and child of God, for His governmental ways have been the same in all dispensations. From the beginning of human history it has always been true, and to the very end of history it will continue so to be, that "no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11).
Long before Joshua was born Elihu had affirmed "If they obey and serve Him they shall spend their days in prosperity and their years in pleasure" (Job 36:11); and centuries after Joshua’s death, the Holy Spirit declared through Zechariah "Thus saith God, why transgress ye the command of the Lord, that ye cannot prosper?" (2 Chron. 24:30). Nor is there any justification to insist that such statements pertained only to the Mosaic economy. If we unhesitatingly apply to our owl-i day that precious word in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool," is it honest to refuse taking unto ourselves the very next verse "If ye be willing and obedient ye shall eat the good of the Land"? The principles which regulate God’s providential dealings with His people are in no way altered by any change made in the outward form of His kingdom upon earth. The teaching of the New Testament is equally express: that "Godliness is profitable for all things: having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come" (1 Tim. 4:8), yet the fulfillment of that promise is conditional upon our keeping of the Divine precepts, upon our personal piety.
There is a definite proviso on which we are warranted to hope for an enjoyment of God’s best. That was announced by Joshua and Caleb when they said unto Israel, "If the Lord delight in us then He will bring us into this land and give it us" (Num. 14:8). That term "delight" has no reference there unto that Divine love unto the souls of believers which is the source of their salvation, but rather to His complacency in their character and conduct. So also is it to be understood in the words used by David when he was fleeing from the conspiracy of Absalom: "Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again and show me both it and His habitation. But if He thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him" (2 Sam. 15:25, 26). David certainly could not mean by that language, If God have no love for my soul, I am willing to be for ever banished from Him; for such submission is required of none who lives under a dispensation of mercy. Rather did he signify, If God approve not of me as I am the head of His people, let Him take away my life if that so pleaseth Him.
As we must distinguish between the twofold "will," the twofold "counsel" and the twofold "pleasure" of God, so we must between His eternal love for and His present delight in us, between His acceptance of us in Christ and the acceptableness of our character and conduct unto Him — it is the latter which determines His governmental smile upon us. If any reader deems that distinction an artificial and forced one, then we ask him, Is no differentiation to be made between those words of Christ unto the Father "Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24) and His declaration "Therefore doth My Father love Me because I lay down My life . . . This commandment have I received of My Father" (John 10:17, 18)? Is not one the Father’s love of Christ’s person, and the other His approbation of His obedience? So again, must we avoid confounding "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jer. 31:3) and "For the Father loveth you because ye have loved Me and have believed that I came out from God" (John 16:27)? Of Enoch it is said "before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God" (Heb. 11:5), whereas of Israel in the wilderness He declared "I was grieved with that generation" (Heb. 3:10)!
It must not be inferred from what has been said above that the one who walks in the paths of righteousness brings God into his debt or that he merits favour at His hands. Not so, for nothing that we can do profits God anything, and if we rendered perfect obedience unto His every precept, we had merely performed our duty and rendered unto God what is His rightful due. On the other hand, it is very plain that we profit from and are the gainers by our obedience. Scripture has not a little to say upon the subject of rewards. It goes so far as to teach that the joys of the future will bear a definite relation and proportion to our conduct in the present, such as obtains between sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7. 8). If then the future rewarding of the saints according to their work (Rev. 22:12) clashes neither with the grace of God nor the merit of Christ, then the present rewarding of them cannot do so, for no difference in place or condition can make any difference as to the nature of things. Deity does not hesitate to take as one of His titles "The Lord God of recompenses" (Jer. 51:56), and many are the passages which show Him recompensing righteousness even in this world.
We have already alluded to Psalm 19:11, where we are told of God’s statutes and judgments that "in keeping of them there is great reward" and we simply call attention now to the tense of that statement: not "shall be," but is so now. A part of that present "reward" is described in such verses as "Great peace have they which love Thy Law, and nothing shall offend [be a "stumbling-block" to] them" (Ps. 119:165); "the work of righteousness [right doing] shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever" (Isaiah 32:17). Such too is the testimony of Psalm 58:11, "So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily He is a God that judgeth in [governs, administers the affairs of] the earth." "The righteous [i.e. the one whose practices conform to the Rule of Righteousness] shall flourish like the palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon . . . to show that the Lord is upright" (Ps. 92:12-15), i.e. to make it evident that He takes notice of and richly blesses such. "Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth" (Prov. 11:31). On the other hand, "The Lord will punish Jacob according to his ways, according to his doings will He recompense him" (Hosea 12:2).
It is an unalterable law of the Divine government that as we sow, so shall we reap. That principle is enunciated and illustrated all through the Scriptures. On the one hand, "they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7); on the other, "sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy" (Hosea 10:12). "Even as I have seen, they that plough iniquity and sow wickedness, reap the same" (Job 4:8). "Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way" (Prov. 1:31). "But to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward" (Prov. 11:18). Our Lord taught precisely the same thing when He said, "There is no man that hath left house, or parents or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time and in the world to come life everlasting" (Luke 18:29, 30). So too the apostles: "He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" (2 Cor. 9:6). "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace" (James 3:18). It is lamentable that such passages are so rarely heard from the pulpit.
It is right here that we have the key to a class of passages which has puzzled and perplexed not a few, namely, those which speak of the Lord’s repenting. To say that such an expression is a figure of speech, God’s condescending to employ our language, though true, really explains nothing. But the difficulty is at once removed when it be seen that the reference is not to the modifying of God’s eternal decrees, but rather unto His governmental ways; signifying that when men alter their attitude and conduct toward Him, the Lord changes in His dealings with them — withholding the judgment threatened, or bestowing the blessing which their sins had kept back. The general principle is clearly expressed in, "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down, and to destroy it, If that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, If it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them" (Jer. 18:7-10).
There is no "if" whatever about the Divine foreordination, but there is in connection with human responsibility. Necessarily so, for in the enforcing thereof the alternatives of recompense must be stated. Many of the woes which God pronounces against kingdoms are not declarations of His eternal decrees or infallible predictions of what is about to take place, but rather ethical intimations of His sore displeasure against sin, and solemn threatenings of what must inevitably follow if there be no change for the better in those denounced: whether or no those impending judgments are to become historic realities is contingent upon their readiness to heed those warnings, or their refusal to do so. The passage quoted above enunciates that basic moral law by which God governs the world, telling us that He approves of obedience and righteousness wherever it be found, and rewards the same; whereas He hates the opposite and punishes it (see Prov. 14:34). Jeremiah 18 sets not before us God as the Determiner of human destiny, but as the Dispenser of temporal awards, governing in equity and in accordance with the discharge of human accountability, showing He is ever ready to prosper the righteous.
The same principle pertains unto the individual. "Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth Me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following Me and hath not performed My commandments" (1 Sam. 15:11). That does not mean God regretted His former act of enthroning Saul, but that because of his defection the Lord would reverse it and depose him (verse 26). Thus we see that God’s governmental actions are determined—in part, at least—by man’s conduct. We say "in part," for God does not act uniformly, and some of His ways in providence are "past finding out," as when He suffers the righteous to be severely afflicted, and the wicked to flourish like a green bay tree. If righteousness were always visibly rewarded and wickedness punished in this life, there would be no room for the exercise of faith in God’s justice, for the Day of Judgment would be anticipated instead of presaged. Nevertheless, if we strike a balance and take the history of each nation or individual as a whole, God’s moral government is now apparent, for we are daily made to see and feel that we are the losers by sinning and the gainers by holiness.
If the balance is to be duly preserved here and a proper concept formed of God’s moral government, then it requires to be pointed out that His justice is tempered with mercy, as well as patience. Therefore does He grant "space to repent," and where that clemency be availed of, God acts accordingly. For, as many of those Divine promises which respect earthly good are conditional upon the performance of obedience, so many of the Divine judgments threatened are averted upon a reformation of manners. "If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent Me of the evil, which I purpose [better, "think"] to do unto them because of the evil of their doings" (Jer. 26:3). Perhaps the most remarkable example of that is seen in the case of wicked Ahab, who, when he heard the sentence of woe pronounced, "rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly." And we are told that the Lord said, "Because he humbleth himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but in his son’s days" (1 Kings 21:20-29).
Let us now consider more definitely a few of those Scriptures which make known what God requires of us if we are to enter into and enjoy His best. Some of them have already been before us in a general way, but they require to be examined from a more particular viewpoint. "This Book of the Law shall not depart Out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" (Joshua 1:8). That is so plain no interpreter is needed. "Then," first, when our speech is ordered by God’s Word, all of our converse being consonant thereto. "The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom and his tongue talketh of judgment." And why? "The Law of God is in his heart" (Ps. 31:30, 31). Second, in order thereto, it must he made our constant "meditation." It is by daily pondering the words of Scripture that we obtain a better understanding of them, fix the same m our memories, and become more fully conformed to them in our souls. Third, that our meditation must be with a definite design and practical end: to "do," to walk obediently.
"For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole wrath, to show Himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward Him" (2 Chron. 16:9). The word generally used for "perfect" (tamim) signifies sincere, but here a different one (shalem) is employed, meaning whole. A "whole heart’ is in contrast with a "divided" one (Hosea 10:2), which pertains to him who vainly seeks to serve two masters, the "double-minded man" who is "unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). Those with a whole heart love the Lord their God with all their mind, soul and strength. They make Him their Portion, find their delight in Him, constantly seek to please and glorify Him. Their affections are undivided, their aim in life is one, like Caleb they "wholly follow the Lord" (Deut. 1:36). And such receive distinctive favors from Him. The "eyes of the Lord" speaks of His knowledge, and their "running to and fro throughout the earth" means that He governs this world in infinite wisdom. The reference is to His providential dealings: His eye directs His hand, and both are employed in His giving special supplies and support to those who make Him their All in all.
"And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Ps. 1:3). There is what we intend by one’s enjoying God’s best. But to whom does the "he" refer? To the "blessed man" in the context. The one who has completely broken with the world: "who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." Observe that the man whom God pronounces "blessed" is one that is careful about his walk. He refuses to follow the advice of the unregenerate. They will urge him to be broad-minded and warn him against being too strict, and press upon him the maxims of the world, but he heeds them not. He is very particular about his associates, knowing that those with whom he is intimate will either be a help or a hindrance to him spiritually. Evil communications corrupt good manners, and therefore he refuses to fraternize with the Christless. And so must you, young Christian, if you desire the smile of God to be upon you.
This opening Psalm strikes the keynote of the whole Psalter, and has for its theme the blessedness of the righteous, i.e. those who tread the paths of righteousness; and contrasts the portion and doom of the ungodly. And the first thing emphasized of that righteous one is that he has turned his back upon the world, for it is at that point practical godliness begins. There can be no walking with God, no real communing with Christ, no treading of "the way of peace," until that word is heeded: "Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord," (2 Cor. 6:17). Second, it is said of this blessed man, "But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law doth he meditate day and night." He is completely subject to God’s authority and makes His revealed will the rule of his life. Nor does he force himself to do so against his inclinations, for his delight is in the same. That is evidenced by its constantly engaging his thoughts, for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:2 1). The mind is regulated by the affections: what the heart is most set upon most engages our thoughts—as gold does the covetous. And the one who conforms to the requirements of Psalm 1:1, 2, will certainly experience the blessings of 1:3. There is the less need for us to dwell upon other passages, for they speak for themselves. "The young lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing" (Ps. 34:10). That is, those who put Him first (Matt. 6:33), who seek Him wholeheartedly (Jer. 29:13), who diligently inquire after His will and earnestly endeavour to please and glorify Him in all things, shall not lack any good—which is assured them as an encouragement for obedience. "No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11). As the Puritan, T. Brooks, pointed out, "Now this choice, this large promise, is made over only to the upright, and therefore as you would have any share in it maintain your uprightness." In his explanation of "them that walk uprightly," John Gill included "Who have their conversation according to the Gospel of Christ, and walk in the sincerity of their hearts." "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding [see margin] have all they that do His commandments" (61:10). Upon which Gill said "Some understand it ‘good success’ or ‘prosperity,’" and added, "such usually have prosperity in soul and body, in things temporal and spiritual," with which we fully concur.
"Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck, write them upon the table of thine heart. So shalt thou find favour and good success in the sight of God and man" (Prov. 3:3, 4). Was it not so with Joseph in Egypt (Gen. 39)? Was it not so with David in Saul’s household (1 Sam. 18)? Was it not so with Daniel and his fellows in Babylon? "For God giveth to a man that is good in His sight, wisdom, and knowledge, and joy" (Eccles. 2:26): the phrase "a man that is good in His sight" is rendered "who pleaseth God" in Ecclesiastes 7:26. The passages which teach that God deals with men in this life according to their conduct are too many to cite, and the marvel is that the minds of so few professing Christians of this age are really affected by them. Take that well-known word, which has been illustrated all through history, "I will bless them that bless thee [Abram] and curse him that curseth thee" (Gen. 12:3), which so far from being exceptional, only exemplifies the principle we are seeking to demonstrate. Take again, "Blessed is he that considereth the poor, the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble; the Lord will preserve him and keep him alive: he shall be blessed upon the earth" (Ps. 42:1, 2).
Consider now some concrete cases. "And the Angel of the Lord called unto Abram out of heaven the second time and said, By Myself have I sworn saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee. . . and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice" (Gen. 22:15-18). What could possibly be plainer? So again God said to Isaac, "I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven and will give unto thy seed all these countries . . . because that Abram obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments" etc. (Gen. 26:4,5). "My servant Caleb because he had another spirit with him and followed Me fully, him will I bring into the land" (Num. 14:24). "Wherefore say, Behold I give unto him [Phinehas] My covenant of peace, and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God and made an atonement for the children of Israel" (Num. 25:12,13). "Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb. . .because he wholly followed the Lord God" (Joshua 14:14).
Said David, "The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands hath He recompensed me" (2 Sam. 22:21). It seems strange that any one possessed of a spiritual mind should be perplexed by these words, for if they be understood according to their original and obvious meaning, there is nothing in them to occasion any difficulty. Let them be read in the light of their context, and they are clear and simple. David was alluding to God’s delivering of him from Goliath and Saul, and from others of his foes: what had been his conduct toward them? Had he committed any serious crimes such as warranted their hostility? Had he grievously wronged any of them? Had they justly or unjustly sought his life? Read the record of David’s history, and it will be found that it contains not a hint that he coveted the throne or hated Saul. As a fact, he was entirely innocent of any evil designs against any of them who so sorely persecuted him. This is plain from one of his prayers to God, "Let not those who are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me, neither let them wink with the eye that hated me without a cause" (Ps. 35:19).
It was because David had neither given his enemies just reason for their persecution and because so far from retaliating, he had borne them no malice, that he now enjoyed the testimony of a good conscience. His character had been grievously aspersed and many hideous things laid to his charge, but his conduct had been upright and conscientious to an uncommon degree. " In all his persecutions by Saul, he would not injure him or his party; nay, he employed every opportunity to serve the cause of Israel, though rewarded by envy, treachery and ingratitude" (Thos. Scott). When we are maligned and opposed by men, it is an inestimable consolation to have the assurance of our own heart unto our innocency and integrity, and therefore we should spare no pains when passing through a season of such trial in exercising ourselves "to have always a conscience void of offence, toward God and man" (Acts 24:14). David, then, was not here giving vent to the boasting of a pharisaical spirit, but was avowing his innocency before the bar of human equity. One is not guilty of pride in knowing himself to be innocent, nor is he so when realizing that God is rewarding him in providence because of his integrity; for each is an evident matter of fact.
In saying "The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness" David enunciated one of the principles operative in the Divine government of this world. "Albeit that the dispensations of Divine grace are to the fullest degree sovereign and irrespective of human merit, yet in the dealings of Providence there is often discernible a rule of justice by which the injured are at length avenged and the righteous ultimately delivered" (C. H. Spurgeon). That statement evinces an intelligent grasp of the viewpoint from which David was writing, namely the governmental ways of God in time, and not the ground upon which He saves eternally. Those declarations of the Psalmist had nothing whatever to do with his justification in the high court of heaven, but concerned the guiltlessness of his conduct toward his enemies on earth, because of which God delivered him from them. It would indeed be most reprehensible for us to transfer such thoughts as are expressed in 2 Samuel 22:20-28, from the realm of providential government into the spiritual and everlasting kingdom, for there grace reigns not only supreme, but alone, in the distribution of Divine favors. On the other hand, a godly man with clear conscience must not deny his own consciousness and hypocritically make himself Out to be worse than he is.
There are those who would dismiss by a wave of the hand what has been adduced above by saying, All that is Old Testament teaching, what occurred under the Dispensation of Law. But such an objection is utterly pointless, for the principles of the Divine government are the same in every era, and therefore the teaching of the New. Testament on this subject is identical with that of the Old. For example: "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7). That has nothing whatever to do with "salvation by works," for in those verses Christ is describing the character of His true disciples. Here He tells us they are "merciful," and in consequence "shall obtain mercy." It is not that God requires the unregenerate to be merciful in order to entitle them unto His saving mercy, but rather that the regenerate are merciful, and according as they act in their true character, so will God order His governmental ways and paternal discipline toward them—"with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matt. 7:2). On the one hand, "with the merciful, Thou wilt show Thyself merciful" (Ps. 18:25); on the other, "But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:15).
That both Christ and the Father act toward Christians in keeping with their conduct is clear from John 14:21, 23—such "manifestations" are withheld from those who fail to walk obediently. "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister" (Heb. 6:10), which clearly implies that He would be unrighteous if He did not reward their benevolence. "For he that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it" (1 Pet. 3:10, 11). "We have here an excellent prescription for a comfortable, happy life in this querulous, ill-natured world" (M. Henry). To those who follow that prescription, Gill said, "such shall inherit the blessing, both here and hereafter." "Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22)! "Because thou hast kept the Word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3:10).
Missing God’s Best
Having shown at some length that the Old and New Testament alike teach there is such a thing as entering into any enjoying God’s best — that if we meet His just requirements He will make our way prosperous—we must turn now to the darker side of the subject, and face the fact that it is sadly possible to miss God’s best and bring down upon ourselves adversity. God has not only promised "no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11), but He has also plainly informed us "Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you" (Jer. 5:25). Upon which John Gill said, "these mercies were kept back from them in order to humble them, and to bring them to a sense of their sins, and an acknowledgement of them." Adversities do not come upon us at haphazard, but from the hand of God; nor does He appoint them arbitrarily, but righteously. God will no more wink at the sins of His people than He will at those of the worldlings: were He to do so, He would not maintain the honour of His house. As Manton also pointed out on Jeremiah 5:25, "If there be any restraint of God’s blessing it is because of man’s sin."
"The way of transgressors is hard" (Prov. 13:15): while no doubt the primary reference there is unto the wicked, yet the principle expressed applies unmistakably to the redeemed as well. If, on the one hand, in keeping God’s commandments there is "great reward," on the other hand, the breaking of them involves great loss. If it be true that Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace (Prov. 3:17), certain it is that if we turn from her ways, we shall be made to smart for it. Alas, how often we stand in our own light and choke the current of God’s favors. It is not only an "evil thing" but a "bitter" one to forsake the Lord our God (Jer. 2:19). That is why sin is so often termed "folly," for it is not only a crime against God, but madness toward ourselves.
Many are the mischiefs caused by our sinning, the chief of which is that we obstruct the flow of God’s blessings. Sin costs us dear, for it not only immediately takes from us, but it prevents our future receiving of Divine bounties. In other words, willful sinning prevents our receiving God’s best for us. "Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper" (2 Chron. 20:20) states the principle clearly enough. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and your souls shall be settled in peace and joy; receive with submission every discovery of His will through His Word and servants, and His providential smile shall be your portion. But, conversely, lean unto your own understanding and suffer unbelief to prevail, and assurance and tranquility of soul will wane and vanish; let self-will and self-pleasing dominate, and His providences will frown upon you. The connection between conduct and its consequences cannot be broken. Walk in the way of faith and holiness and God is pleased, and will evidence His pleasure toward us; enter the paths of unrighteousness and God is provoked, and will visit His displeasure upon us. When Israel’s land was laid waste and their cities were burned, they were told "Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, when He led thee by the way?" (Jer. 2:17). Upon which M. Henry said, "Whatever trouble we are in at any time, we may thank ourselves for it, for we bring it upon our own hands by our forsaking of God." "The curse causeless shall not come" (Prov. 26:2).
Missing God’s best is true of the unsaved. As long as unbelievers are left in this world, opportunity is given them of escaping from the wrath to come. Therefore they are exhorted—in the Scriptures, if not from the pulpit—"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6). For the same reason there is a door represented as being open to them, which the Master of the house will one day rise up and shut to (Luke 13:24, 25). Nothing could more clearly express the danger of delay than the language used in such passages. Nor is there anything in them which at all clashes with the Divine decrees. As one has pointed out, "All allow that men have opportunity in natural things to do what they do not, and to obtain what they obtain not; and if that be consistent with a universal providence which performeth all things that are appointed for us (Job. 23:14), why cannot the other consist with the purpose of Him who does nothing without a plan, but worketh all things after the counsel of His own will."
Slothfulness is no excuse in those who refuse to improve their lot; nor is intemperance any extenuation for a man’s bringing upon himself physical, financial, and moral disaster. Still less does either prejudice or indolence release any from his accountability to accept the free offer of the Gospel. "Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?" (Prov. 17:16). The "price in his hand" signifies the means and opportunity. "Wisdom" may be understood both naturally and spiritually. The "fool" is the one who fails to obtain what he might well and should procure. The reason he does not is simply that he lacks "a heart" or desire and determination. As M. Henry said, "He has set his heart upon other things, so that he has no heart to do his duty, or to the great concerns of his soul." Such fools the world is full of: they prefer sin to holiness, this world rather than heaven. "He who in his bargains exchanges precious things for trifles is a fool. Thus do men sell their time which is their money given for eternity, and they sell it for things unsatisfying, they sell themselves for naught" (Thomas Goodwin); and thereby they miss God’s best.
"Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?" (Prov. 17:16). After interpreting those words first as natural wisdom and knowledge, and "the price" as the worldly substance which a foolish man spends on riotous living, instead of purchasing useful books for the improvement of his mind, none other than John Gill said upon its higher application: "or spiritual wisdom and knowledge: the means of which are reading the Word, frequent opportunities for attending on a Gospel ministry. . .conversation with Gospel ministers and other Christians; but instead of making use of these he neglects, slights and despises them. And it is asked, with some degree of indignation and astonishment, why or to what purpose a fool is favored with such means? seeing he hath no heart to it? to wisdom: he does not desire it, nor to make use of the price or means in order to obtain it; all is lost upon him, and it is hard to account for why he should have this price when he makes such an ill use of it." But Gill created his own difficulty: God provides the non-elect with spiritual means and opportunities to enforce their responsibility, so that their blood shall be upon their own heads, that the blame is theirs for missing His best.
But it is the Christian’s doing so that we have chiefly in mind. Sad indeed is it to behold so many of them living more under the frown of God than His smile, and sadder still that so few of them have been taught why it is so with them, and how to recover themselves. The New Testament makes it clear that many of the primitive saints "ran well" for a time, and then something hindered them. Observation shows that the majority of believers "follow the Lord fully" (Num. 14:24) at the outset but soon "leave their first love." At the beginning, they respond readily to the promptings of the Spirit and adjust their lives to the requirements of the Word, until some demand is made upon them, some self-denying duty is met with, and they balk. Then the Holy Spirit is grieved, His enabling power is withheld, their peace and joy wane, and a spiritual decline sets m. Unless they put right with God what is wrong—repent of and contritely confess their sad failure—the rod of chastisement falls upon them; but instead of being "exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11) some fatalistically accept it as "their appointed lot," and are nothing bettered thereby.
Now the Lord has plainly warned His people that if they meet not His just requirements, so far from enjoying His best, adversity will be their portion. "Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God. Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them and they to you: Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you (Joshua 23:11-13). The Jews held Canaan by the tenure of their obedience, and so do those who belong to "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:15) now possess and enjoy their spiritual Canaan in proportion to their obedience. But as God has forewarned, "If His children forsake My Law, and walk not in My judgments; if they break My statutes and keep not My commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail" (Ps. 89:30-33).
That passage makes it unmistakably clear that while the chastenings from our Father proceed from both His faithfulness and holy love, yet they are also marks of His displeasure; and that while they are designed for our good—the recovery of us from our backsliding—yet they have been provoked by our own waywardness. The Father’s rod is not wielded by an arbitrary sovereignty, but by righteousness. It is expressly declared, "For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men" (Lam. 3:33), but only as we give Him occasion to do so. That important statement has not received the attention it deserves, especially by those who have so focused their thoughts upon God’s eternal decrees as to quite lose sight of His governmental ways. Hence the tragic thing is that when chastisement becomes their portion, they know of nothing better than to "bow to God’s sovereign will," which is very little different in principle from the world’s policy of "seeking to make the best of a bad job," or "we must grit our teeth and endure it." Such a fatalistic and supine attitude ill becomes a regenerate soul; instead, he is required to be "exercised thereby."
Only too often such "bowing to the will of God" is so far from being a mark of spirituality, it rather evinces a sluggish conscience. God bids His people "hear ye the rod" (Mich. 6:9). It has a message for the heart, but we profit nothing unless we ascertain what the rod is saying to us—why it is God is now smiting us! In order to discover its message, we need to humbly ask the Lord "show me wherefore Thou contendest with me" (Job 10:2); "cause me to understand wherein I have erred" (Job. 6:24); reveal to me wherein I have displeased Thee, that I may contritely acknowledge my offence and be more on my guard against a repetition of it. The holiness of God will not tolerate sin in the saints, and when they go on in the same unrepentingly, then He declares, "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns" (Hos. 3:6). Note well "thy way," not "My way." God sets the briars of trials and the sharp thorns of afflictions in the path of His disobedient children. If that suffices not to bring them to their senses, then he adds "and make a wall that she shall not find her paths"—His providences block the realization of their carnal and covetous desires.
"But My people would not hearken to My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them up unto their own heart’s lusts: they walked in their own counsels. Oh that My people had hearkened unto Me, Israel had walked in My ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies and turned My hand against their adversaries . . . He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat, and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee" (Ps. 81:11-16). When we meet with a passage like this our first duty is to receive it with meekness, and not to inquire, How is it to be harmonized with the invincibility of the Divine decrees? Our second duty is to prayerfully endeavour to understand its sense, and not to explain away its terms. We must not draw inferences from it which contradict other declarations of Holy Writ, either concerning the accomplishments of God’s purpose or His dealing with us according to our conduct. Instead of reasoning about their teaching, we need to turn these verses into earnest petition begging God to preserve us from such sinful folly as marked Israel on this occasion.
There is nothing in those verses which should occasion any difficulty for the Calvinist, for they treat not of the eternal foreordinations of God, but of His governmental ways with men in this life. For the same reason there is nothing in them which in any wise supports the Arminian delusion that, having created men free moral agents, God is unable to do for them and with them what He desires without reducing them to mere machines. We should then, proceed on that which is obvious in them, and not confuse ourselves by reading in them anything obscure. The key to them is found in verses 11, 12: Israel walked contrary to God’s will — not His decretive, but His preceptive. They acted not according to the Divine commandments, but, in their self-will and self-pleasing, determined to have their own way; and in consequence they forfeited God’s best for them. Instead of His subduing their enemies, He allowed the heathen to vanquish them. Instead of providing abundant harvests, He sent them famines (2 Sam. 21:1). Instead of giving them pastors after His own heart, He suffered them to be deceived by false prophets (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10, 11).
"Oh that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea" (Isa. 48:18). On which even Gill said, "their prosperity, temporal and spiritual, had been abundant, and would always have continued, have been increasing and ever-flowing." Failure to walk in the paths of God’s precepts deprives us of many a blessing. In his review of The Life and Letters of the late James Bourne (Gospel Standard, October 1861), Mr. Philpot said, "There is deep truth in the following extract"—a sentence or two of which we here quote: "If I pay no reverence to such a word as this, ‘Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good’ (Rom. 12:21), I shall fall into bondage, and find my prayer shut out. It will prove a hindrance to my approaches to God, for ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me’ (Ps. 66:18) . . . If you attend not to the word of exhortation, you will find no communion with His people, no blessing of God upon the work of your hands."
After describing the sore judgments of God which were about to fall upon the wayward children of Israel, His faithful servant told them plainly, "Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee: this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thy heart" (Jer. 4:18). Upon which Gill said "those calamities coming upon them, they had none to blame but themselves; it was their own sinful ways and works whereby that this ruin and destruction come on them." Consider also this passage: "Ye looked for much and lo, it came to little: and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of host" (Hag. 1:9). This searching question was put for their sakes, "that they might be made sensible of it, and in order to introduce what follows: ‘because of mine house that is waste’: which they suffered to lie waste, and did not concern themselves about the rebuilding of it; this the Lord resented, and for this reason blasted all their labours; and ‘ye run every man unto his own house’ " (Gill). How many a Christian today might trace God’s "blowing upon" his temporal affairs unto his putting his carnal interests before the Lord’s!
Consider now some individual examples. Do not the closing incidents recorded in the life of Lot make plain demonstration that he "missed God’s best"? Witness his being forcibly conducted out of Sodom by the angels, where all his earthly possessions, his sons, and his sons-in-law perished; and when his wife was turned into a pillar of salt for her defiance. Behold his intemperance in the cave, then unwittingly committing incest with his own daughters—the last thing chronicled of him! But "was there not a cause"? Go back and mark him separating from godly Abraham, coveting the plain of Jordan, pitching his tent "toward Sodom" (Gen. 13:12). Though "the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly," yet Lot settled in their midst, and even "sat in the gate of Sodom" (Gen. 19:1), i.e. held office there! Is it not equally evident that Jacob too missed God’s best? Hear his own sad confession near the close of his career: "few and evil have the days of my life been" (Gen. 47:9). And is the explanation far to seek? Read his history, and it should at once be apparent that he was made to reap exactly as he had sown.
The chequered life of David supplies us with more than one or two illustrations of the same principle. Few men have experienced such sore social and domestic trials as he did. Not only was David caused much trouble by political traitors in his kingdom, but, what was far more painful, the members of his own family brought down heavy sorrows upon him. The second book of Samuel records one calamity after another. His favorite wife turned against him (6:20-22), his daughter Tamar was raped by her half brother (13:14), and his son Ammon was murdered (13:28, 29). His favorite son, Absalom, sought to wrest the kingdom from him, and then met with an ignominious end (18:14). Before David’s death, yet another of his sons sought to obtain the throne (1 Kings 1:5), and he too was murdered (1 Kings 2:24,25). Since the Lord afflicts not willingly, but only as our sins give occasion, it behooves us to attend closely to what led up to and brought upon David those great afflictions. Nor have we far to seek. Read 2 Samuel 3:2-5, and note his six wives: he gave way to the lusts of flesh, and of the flesh he "reaped corruption"!
Painful though it be for us to dwell upon the failings and falls of the sweet Psalmist of Israel, especially since in so many respects he puts both writer and reader to shame, yet it must be remembered that "whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4)—that we might heed such warnings, and be preserved from similar backslidings. His grievous offence against Uriah and Bathsheba is prefaced by the fact that he was indulging in slothful ease, instead of performing his duty (2 Sam. 11:1, 2)—observe well the ominous "But" at the close of verse 1! Though David sincerely and bitterly repented of those sins and obtained the Lord’s forgiveness, yet by them he missed His best, and for the rest of his days lived under more or less adverse providences and the "sword" never departed from his house (2 Sam. 12:10). Nothing could more plainly evince that a holy God takes notice of our actions and deals with us accordingly, or make it manifest that it is our own folly which brings down the rod of God upon us. We read the historical portions of Scripture to little purpose or profit unless their practical lessons are taken to heart by us. Our consciences require to be searched by these narratives far more than our minds be informed by them!
Let us now point out that the same principle holds good in connection with the Divine government under the new covenant as obtained under the old. "And He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief" (Matt. 13:58). What place has such a statement as that in the theology of hyper-Calvinists? None whatever. Yet it should have, otherwise why has it been placed upon record if it has no analogy today? As Matt. Henry rightly insisted, "Unbelief is the great obstacle to Christs favour . . . . The Gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation,’ but then it is ‘to every one that believeth’ (Rom. 1:16). So that if mighty works be not wrought in us it is not for want of power or grace in Christ, but want of faith in us." That was putting the emphasis where it must be placed if human responsibility is to be enforced. It was nothing but hardness of heart which precluded them from sharing the benefits of Christ’s benevolence. When the father whose son was possessed by the demon that the disciples had failed to expel, said unto the great Physician, "If Thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us," He at once turned the "if" back again upon him, saying, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:22-23).
That we are the losers by our folly and that we bring trouble down upon ourselves by unbelief is illustrated in the case of the father of John the Baptist. When the angel of the Lord appeared unto him during the discharge of his priestly office in the temple, and announced that his prayer was answered and his wife would bear a son, instead of expressing gratitude at the good news and bursting forth in thanksgiving unto God, Zacharias voiced his doubts. saying, "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years" Whereupon the angel declared, "Behold thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words" (Luke 1:20), upon which Gill said, "He was stricken with deafness because he hearkened not to the angel’s words, and dumbness because from the unbelief of his heart he objected to them. We learn from hence, what an evil unbelief is, and how much resented by God, and how much it becomes us to heed that it prevails not in us." To which he might well have added: and how God manifests His resentment against such conduct by sending adverse providences upon us!
Should it be said that the above incident occurred before the day of Pentecost—a pointless objection—then let us call attention to the fact that at a very early date after the establishment of Christianity God, in an extraordinary manner, visited with temporal judgments those who displeased and provoked Him. A clear case in point is the visible manner in which He dealt with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). So too when Herod gratefully accepted the idolatrous adulation’s of the populace, instead of rebuking their sinful flattery, we are told, ‘And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory; and he was eaten with worms" (Acts 12:23). God does suit His governmental ways according to the conduct of men, be they unbelievers. Not always so plainly or so promptly as in the examples just adduced, yet with sufficient clearness and frequency that all impartial and discerning observers may perceive that nothing happens by chance or mere accident, but is traceable to an antecedent cause or occasion; that His providences are regulated by righteousness.
"For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:3-5). A member of the Corinthian assembly had committed a grave offence, which was known publicly. For the same, he was dealt with drastically: something more than a bare act of ex-communication or being "disfellowshipped" being meant in the above verses. The guilty one was committed unto Satan for him to severely afflict his body—which is evidently meant by "the flesh" being here contrasted with "the spirit." That Satan has the power of afflicting the body we know from Job 2:7; Luke 13:16, etc. And that the apostles, in the early days of Christianity, were endowed with the authority to deliver erring ones unto Satan to be disciplined by him, is evident from 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10; 1 Timothy 1:20. Thus we see how a Christian was here visited with some painful disease because of his sins.
It is sadly possible for Christians to miss God’s best through failure in their home life. This is evident from 1 Peter 3:7, "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel, and as heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." Incidentally that verse inculcates family worship, the husband and wife praying together. Further, it teaches that their treatment of one another will have a close bearing upon their joint supplications, for if domestic harmony does not obtain, what unity of spirit can there be when they come together before the throne of grace? By necessary implication that also shows how essential it is that they be "equally yoked together," for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? What joint act of worship is possible between a child of God and a child of the Devil, between a regenerate soul and a worldling? Yet even where both the husband and the wife be true Christians, they are required to regulate their individual conduct by the precepts which God has given unto each of them: the wife that she be "in subjection to" her husband and diligent in cultivating "a meek and quiet spirit" (verses 1-6): the husband that he heeds the injunctions here given; otherwise their petitions will be "hindered," and God’s best forfeited.
First, the husband is to act according to his knowledge that his wife is "the weaker vessel," which is not said in disparagement of her sex. As one has pointed out, It is no insult to the vine to say that it is weaker than the tree to which it clings, or to the rose to say it is weaker than the bush that bears it. The strongest things are not always therefore the best—either the most beautiful or the most useful." Second, as such he is to "give honour to her": that is, his superior strength is to be engaged for her defence and welfare, rendering all possible assistance in lightening her burdens. Her very weakness is to serve as a constant appeal for a patient tenderness and forbearance toward her infirmities. Furthermore, he is ever to act in accordance with her spiritual equality, that they are "heirs together of the grace of life." Not only should the love which he has for her make him diligent in promoting her well-being, but the grace of which he has been made a partaker should operate in seeking the good of her soul and furthering her spiritual interests: discussing together the things of God, reading edifying literature to her when she is relaxing, pouring out together their thanksgivings unto God and making known their requests at the family altar.
Then it is, when those Divine requirements are met by both wife and husband, that they may plead that promise, "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:19). That agreement is far more than verbal or even mental: it is a spiritual one. The Greek word is sumphoneo, and literally signifies "to sound together." It is a musical term, as when two different notes or instruments make a harmonious sound. Thus, there must be oneness of heart, unity of spirit, concord of soul, in order for two Christians to "agree" before the throne of grace, for their joint petitions to be harmonious and melodious unto the Lord. It is music in the ear of their Father when the spiritual chords of a Christian husband and a Christian wife vibrate in unison at the family altar. But that can only obtain as they singly and mutually conduct themselves as "heirs together of the grace of life," their home life being ordered by the Word of God, everything in it done for His glory: the wife acting toward her husband as the Church is required to do as the Lamb’s Wife, the husband treating her as Christ loves and cherishes His Church.
Contrariwise, if the wife rebels against the position which God has assigned her and refuses to own her husband as her head and lord, yielding obedience to him in everything which is not contrary to the Divine statutes, then friction and strife will soon obtain, for a godly husband must not yield to the compromising plea of "peace at any price." Equally so, if the husband takes unlawful advantage of his headship and he tyrannical, then, though the wife bear it meekly, her spirit is crushed, and love is chilled. If he treat her more like a servant or slave than a wife, the Spirit will be grieved, and he will be made to smart. If he be selfishly forgetful of her infirmities, especially those involved in childbearing, if he be not increasingly diligent in seeking to lighten her load and brighten her lot as the family grows, if he exercises little concern and care for her health and comfort, then she will feel and grieve over such callousness, and harmony of spirit will be gone. In such a case, their prayers will be "hindered," or, as the Greek word signifies, "cut off" —the very opposite of "agree" in Matthew 18:19! By domestic discord the heart is discomposed for supplication, and thus God’s best is missed.
From the second and third chapters of the Revelation we learn that the Lord treats with local churches on the same principles as He does with individuals: that they too enter into or miss His best according to their own wisdom or folly. Thus, to the pastor of the Ephesian assembly, He declared, "I have against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (2:4, 5)—how many such a "candlestick" has thus been removed! To the careless and compromising ones at Pergamos, who then suffered in their midst those who held doctrine which He hated, the Lord solemnly threatened, "Repent or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against thee with the sword of My mouth" (2:14, 15)—those churches which are slack in maintaining holy discipline invite Divine judgment. While to the boastful and worldly Laodiceans the Lord declared, "I will spue thee out of My mouth" (3:16)—I will no longer own thee as My witness.
Writing on the need of members of a local church having "the same care of one another" (1 Cor. 12:25) and pointing out how that James 2:1-4, supplies an example of a company of saints where the opposite practice obtained, one wrote: "Instead of having the same care, when we make a difference between him ‘with a gold ring and goodly apparel’ and him or her with vile or poor clothing, we are being ‘partial’ ... Do not be deceived with the thought that God does not behold such partiality: He will not prosper that church, but the members of the whole body will be made to suffer from this lack of the ‘same care for one another’." And we would point out that this brief quotation is not taken from any Arminian publication, but from a recent issue of a magazine by the most hyper-Calvinist body we know of in the U.S.A. What we would particularly direct attention to in it is that when such a carnal church is "made to suffer" because of the pride and selfishness of some of its officers or members, then it has missed God’s best. How many such churches are there in Christendom today!
"For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1 Cor. 11:30). Here is a clear case in point where many Christians missed God’s best, and brought down upon themselves His temporal judgments because of their own misconduct. "For this cause" refers to their having eaten of the Lord’s supper "unworthily" or unbecomingly — see verses 20 and 21. When numerous cases of sickness and death occur in a Christian assembly, they are not to be regarded as a matter of course, but made the subject of a searching examination before God and a humbling inquiring of Him. God was not dealing with these Corinthian saints in mere sovereignty, but in governmental righteousness, disciplining them for a grave offence. He was manifesting His displeasure at them because of their sins, afflicting them with bodily sickness—which in many instances ended fatally—on account of their irreverence and intemperance, as the "For this cause" unmistakably shows. This too has been recorded for our instruction, warning us to avoid sin in every form, and signifying that the commission of it will expose us to the Divine displeasure even though we be God’s dear children. Here, too, we are shown that our entering into or missing of God’s best has a real influence upon the health of our bodies!
That same passage goes on to inform us how we may avert such disciplinary affliction! "For if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged" (1 Cor. 11:31). There is a Divine judgment to which the saints are amenable, a judgment pertaining to this life, which is exercised by Christ as the Judge of His people (1 Pet. 4:17). To Him each local church is accountable; unto Him each individual believer is responsible for his thoughts, words and deeds. As such He walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" (Rev. 2:1). Nothing escapes His notice, for "His eyes are as a flame of fire" and before Him all things are naked and opened (2:18). Not that He is strict to impute every iniquity, or rigorous to punish, for who then could stand before Him? The Lord is in no haste to correct His redeemed, but is slow to anger and loth to chasten. Nevertheless He is holy, and will maintain the honour of His own house, and therefore does He call upon His erring ones to repent under threat of judgment if they fail to do so. Not that He ever imposes any penal inflictions for their sins, for He personally suffered and atoned for them; but out of the love He bears them He makes known how they may avoid His governmental corrections.
"If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." There are some of the Lord’s people who, when they be overtaken in a fault, expect immediate chastisement at His hands, and through fear of it their knees are feeble and their hands hang down. But that is going to the opposite extreme from careless indifference: both of which are condemned by the above verse. It is a law of Christ’s judgment that "if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." That is, if we make conscience of having offended, and go directly to the Judge, unsparingly condemning ourselves and contritely confessing the fault to Him, He will pardon and pass it by. Though they be far from parallel, yet we may illustrate by the case of Nineveh under the preaching of Jonah. When the prophet announced "yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4), more was intended than was expressed. He was not there proclaiming God’s inexorable fiat, but was sounding an alarum to operate as a means of moral awakening. That "forty days" opened a door of hope for them, and was tantamount to saying, Upon genuine repentance and true reformation of conduct, a reprieve will be granted. That is no mere inference of ours, but a fact clearly attested in the immediate sequel.
"So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth" (verse 5); while the king published a decree to his subjects: "Cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?" And we are told, "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that He had said 1-le would do unto them; and He did it not" (verses 5-10). God’s "repenting" here means that He altered in His bearing toward them because their conduct had changed for the better, thereby averting the judgment with which He had threatened them. Now if God dealt thus with a heathen people upon their repentance and reformation, how much more will Christ turn away the rod of chastisement from His redeemed when they truly repent of their sins and humble themselves before Him! For them there is no mere "who can tell if God will turn and repent," but the definite and blessed assurance that "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
"For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." O what tenderness and Divine longsufferance breathe in those words! That even when we have erred, yea, sinned grievously, a way is opened for us whereby we may escape the rod. Ah, but what Divine wisdom and righteousness are also evinced by them! "If we would judge ourselves" we should escape the disciplinary consequences of our sins. And why so? Because the rod is no longer needed by us. Why not? Because in such a case the desired effect has been wrought in us without the use of it! What is God’s design in chastisement? To bring the refractory one to his senses, to make him realize he has erred and displeased the Lord, to cause him to right what is wrong by repentance, confession, and reformation. When those fruits are borne, then we have "heard the rod" (Micah 6:9) and it has accomplished its intended work. Very well then, if we truly, unsparingly, and contritely "judge" ourselves before God for our sins, then the rod is not required. Having condemned himself, turned back into the way of holiness, sought and obtained cleansing from all unrighteousness, he is brought to the very point—only more quickly and easily! —to which chastening would bring him! "For if we would judge ourselves": those very words seem to imply there is both a slowness and a reluctance in the saints so to do a thought which is confirmed in the next verse. Alas, many of those who have left their first love are in such a backslidden and sickly case spiritually that they are incapable of judging themselves. Their conscience has become so dull through the frequent excusing of what they deemed trifling things, their walk is so careless, that they offend their Judge and are virtually unaware of doing so. "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not; yea, grey hairs [the mark of decline and decay] are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not" (Hos. 7:9). Since, then, they are not exercised over their sins, the rod must awaken them; for their holy Lord will not tolerate unconfessed sins in His own. But others, who have not deteriorated to such a sad degree, are conscious of their faults, yet nevertheless do not judge themselves for the same. Why? What causes such reluctance to humble themselves before God? What, but accursed pride! In such case, His mighty hand will bring them down, and hence it follows:
"For when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (verse 32). Such was the case with the Corinthians. They sinned again and again in different ways, and were unexercised. They were "carnal," and among them were envying and strife, yet they judged not themselves. The Lord gave them space for repentance, but they repented not, until, in the profanation of His holy supper, He was obliged to act, visiting them with bodily sickness and death. Thus, from the words, "when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord," the conclusion is inescapable: we have failed to condemn ourselves. As it is a rule of Christ’s kingdom that when His people own their offences and turn from the same, He spares the rod; so it is equally a rule in His kingdom that when they sin and confess it not, but continue in the same, then He chastens them. And there is infinite mercy in that, for it is that they "should not be condemned with the world." His own wayward children are chastised here in this world, but the ungodly will bear the full punishment of their sins for ever and ever in Hell! Sin must be "condemned": either by us, or by the righteous Judge—here, or hereafter. How much better to judge ourselves and thereby escape His judgment!
Recovery of God’s Best
We have considered various cases, both of individuals and corporate companies, who missed God’s best, and saw how ill it fared with them. We pointed out how that if we judge ourselves for our sins we shall escape God’s chastening rod. We now turn to the question, Is it possible for a Christian who has missed God’s best to be recovered to full communion with Him and restored to His providential smile? Possible, yes; easy, no. Before we show how that possibility may be realized, let us solemnly ponder what brought that poor soul into such a sorry plight a plight into which both writer and reader will certainly fall unless we are ever on our prayerful guard. The grand but simple secret of a healthy and prosperous spiritual life is to continue as we began (Col. 2:6): by daily trusting m the sufficiency of Christ’s blood and yielding ourselves to His lordship, seeking to please and honor Him in all things. As the believer walks with Christ in the path of obedience, following the example which He has left him, peace will possess his soul and joy will fill his heart, and the smile of God will be upon him. But unless he, by grace, fulfil those conditions, such will not be his happy portion.
If the believer slackens in maintaining daily fellowship with Christ and drawing from His fullness, if he fails to feed regularly on the Word and becomes less frequent in his approaches to the throne of grace, then the pulse of his spiritual life will beat more feebly and irregularly. Unless he meditates oft on the love of God and keeps fresh before his heart the humiliation and sufferings of Christ on his behalf, his affections will soon cool, his relish for spiritual things will wane, and obedience will neither be so easy nor so pleasant. If such a spiritual decline be neglected or excused, it will not be long ere indwelling sin gains the upper hand over his graces, and his heart will more and more glide imperceptibly into carnality and worldliness. Worldly pleasures, which previously repelled and were perceived to be vanities, will begin to attract. Worldly pursuits, which had been only a means, will become his end, absorbing more and more of his attention and having a higher value in his eyes. Or worldly cares, which he had cast upon the Lord, will now oppress and weigh him down. And unless there be a humbling of himself before God (and His providence hinder), he will soon be found in the ways of open transgression. Backsliding begins in the heart!
The case of a backslider is much more serious than that of one who has been "overtaken in a fault" (Gal. 6:1). For with him it is not a matter of a sudden surprisal and a single stumble, but rather of a steady deterioration and definite departure from the Lord. Nor is it, in its early stages, manifested openly, and hence his brethren may be quite unaware of it. A secret canker of unwatchfulness and coldness has infected him: he has yielded to a spirit of laxity and self-indulgence. When first aware of his decline, instead of being alarmed, he ignored it; instead of weeping over it before God, he went on in his carnality, until his graces became inoperative and all power to resist the devil was gone. With such the Holy Spirit is grieved and His quickening influences are withdrawn and His comforts are withheld. There are indeed degrees of backsliding: with some it is partial, with others total; yet while one remains in that case, it is impossible for the saint to determine which; nor is there anything in Scripture which gives a warrantable sense of security unto such a one, or which countenances any man to be easy in his sins; but very much the contrary.
Inexpressibly sad is the case of one who continues for a season in a backslidden state. He has displeased God, dishonored Christ, in many instances has become a stumbling-block to fellow Christians, especially to younger ones. He has made himself miserable. He has sinned and repented not; departed from God, and confessed it not. Formerly he walked in happy fellowship with God, the light of His countenance shone upon him, and that peace which passeth all understanding possessed his soul. But now the joy of salvation is no more his portion. He has lost his relish for the Word, and prayer has become a burden. He is out of touch with God, for his iniquities have separated him from Him (Isa. 59:2), and he can find no rest unto his soul. He has been spoilt for the world and cannot now find even that measure of satisfaction in carnal things which the ungodly do. Wretched indeed is his plight. "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways (Prov. 14:14): it cannot be otherwise, for he no longer has any delight in the ways of God. His own backslidings reprove him, so that he is made to know and see what "an evil and bitter thing it is to depart from the Lord his God" (Jer. 2:19), and thereby miss His best.
Yet, pitiful though his case be, it is not hopeless, for the call goes forth "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord" (Jer 3:14). Nevertheless, response thereto is not the simple matter that lookers-on might suppose. It is very much easier to depart from God than to return unto Him. Not that His terms of recovery are rigorous, but because the soul is straitened. It is difficult for the backslider to perceive the nature and seriousness of his condition, for sin has a blinding and hardening effect, and the more he falls under the power of it, the less does he discern the state he is in. Even when his eyes begin to be opened again, there is an absence of real desire for recovery, for sin has a paralyzing influence, so that its victims are "at ease in Zion." Even David was insensible of his awful plight when Nathan first approached him, and it was not until the prophet pointedly declared "Thou art the man" that Satan’s spell over him was broken. There is therefore much to be thankful for when such are awakened from their slumber and made to hear that word "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings" (Jer. 3:22).
But even then the soul is reluctant to meet God’s terms. If nothing more were required than a lip acknowledgment of his offences and a return to outward duties, no great difficulty would be experienced; but to really fulfil the Divine conditions for restoration is a very different matter. As John Owen affirmed, "Recovery from backsliding is the hardest task in the Christian religion; one which few make either comfortable or honorable work of." There has to be an asking, a seeking, a knocking, if the door of deliverance is to be opened to him. As John Brine (whose works were favorably reviewed in the Gospel Standard) wrote to God’s people two hundred years ago, "Much labour and diligence are required unto this. It is not complaining of the sickly condition of our souls which will effect this cure: confession of our follies that have brought diseases upon us, though repeated ever so often, will avail nothing toward the removal of them. If we intend the recovery of our former health and vigor, we must act as well as complain and groan." Let us now endeavour to point out how God requires such a one to "act."
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13) epitomizes both sides of the case. Sin is a disease of the soul, and (like a bodily one) by concealing it, we make it increase and become desperate. As the Puritan, Joseph Caryl, pointed out, "Sin increases two ways in the concealment of it. First, in its guilt. The obligation to punishment takes stronger hold upon the soul, and every man is bound the faster with the chains of darkness by how much more he labours to keep his sins in the dark. The longer a sin remains on the conscience unpardoned, the more does the guilt of it increase. Second, in the filth and contagion of it, in the strength and power of it. It grows more master, and masterly, and at last raves and rages, commands and carries all before it." To "cover" our sins is a refusal to bring them out into the light by an honest confession of the same unto God; in the case of our fellows, refusing to acknowledge our offences unto those we have wronged. This reprehensible hiding of sin is an adding of sin unto sin, and is a certain preventative of prosperity, and if persisted in will cover the perpetrator with shame and confusion for ever.
To "cover" sin is to hide it within our own bosoms, instead of openly acknowledging it. Thus it was with Achan even when the tribes were solemnly arraigned before Joshua and Eleazar, the high priest: he solemnly maintained silence until his crime was publicly exposed. Some seek to conceal their sins by framing excuses and attempting a self-extenuation: they seek to throw the blame upon their circumstances, their fellows, or Satan — upon anything or anyone except themselves! Others proceed to a still worse device, and seek to cloak their sin by a lie, denying their guilt. As did Cain, for when God made inquisition for blood and inquired of him "Where is Abel thy brother?" he answered "I know not." So too Gehazi blankly denied his wrong when charged by Elisha (2 Kings 5:25). In like manner acted Ananias and Sapphira. Three things induce men to make coverings for their sins. First, pride. Man has such high thoughts of himself that when guilty of the basest things, he is too self-opinionated to own them. Second, unbelief. Those who have not faith to believe that God can and will cover confessed sins, vainly attempt to do so themselves. Third, shame and fear cause many to hide their sins. Sin is such a hideous monster they will not own it as theirs.
"But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." Confession of sin is an indispensable part of repentance, and without repentance there can be no remission (Acts 3:19). "I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" (Ps. 32:5) — the pardon was upon his confession. Those who are so convicted of their sins as to be humbled and sorrowed by a sight and sense of them, will not hide them out of sight. Nor will their confession be merely a formal one of the lips, but rather the sobbings of a contrite heart. And instead of generalizing, there will be a particularizing; instead of seeking to excuse or gloss over the offence, it will be painted in its true colors and its aggravations frankly owned. There will be an acknowledgment of the fact and of the fault: an unsparing self-condemnation. The language of David in the opening verses of Psalm 51 will be found most suited to his case. The sin or sins will be confessed sincerely, contritely, fully, with a self-abasement and self-loathing. The cry will be made "O Lord, pardon mine iniquity font is great" (Ps. 25:11).
"And forsake them." To "forsake" our sins is a voluntary and deliberate act. It signifies to hate and abandon them in our affections, to repudiate them by our wills, to refuse to dwell upon them in our minds and imaginations with any pleasure or satisfaction. It necessarily implies that we renounce them, and are resolved by God’s grace to make the utmost endeavour to avoid any repetition of them. "We must keep at a distance from those persons and snares which have drawn us into instances of folly, which have occasioned that disorder which is the matter of our complaint. Without this we may multiply acknowledgments and expressions of concern for our past miscarriages to no purpose at all. It is very great folly to think of regaining our former strength so long as we embrace and dally with those objects through whose evil influence we have fallen into a spiritual decline. It is not our bewailing the pernicious effects of sin that will prevent its baleful influence upon us for time to come, except we are determined to forsake that to which is owing our melancholy disease" (John Brine). There must be a complete break from all that poisons the soul.
But suppose the saint does not promptly thus confess and forsake his sins, then what? Why, in such a case, he will "not prosper": there will be no further growth in grace, nor will the providential smile of God be upon him. ‘[he Holy Spirit is grieved, and will suspend His gracious operations within his soul, and henceforth his "way" will be made "hard." Such was the experience of David: "When I kept silence, my bones [a figure of the supports of the soul] waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture [or vigor or freshness] is turned into the drought of summer" (Ps. 32:3, 4). Sin is a pestilential thing which saps our spiritual vitality. Though David was silent as to confession, he was not so as to sorrow. God’s hand smote him so that he was made to groan under His chastening rod. Nor did he obtain any relief until he humbled himself before God by confessing and forsaking his sins. Not that there is anything meritorious in such acts which entitles their performer to mercy, but this is the holy order which God has established. He will not connive at our sins, but withholds His mercy until we take sides with Him in the hatred of them.
"If My people which are called by My name shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:24). This passage shows us, first, that God sends temporal judgments upon His people because of their sins. Second, it makes known what they are to do when His rod is upon them. Third, it contains a precious promise for faith to lay hold of. Let us carefully note what was required from them. First, "If My people shall humble themselves," which is similar to the "judge ourselves" in 1 Corinthians 11:31, but here when chastisement is upon them. Leviticus 26:41, casts light upon it: "if . . . they accept the punishment of their iniquity," which is the opposite of asking, What have I done to occasion this? "After all that is come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great trespass, seeing that Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve" (Ezra 9:13) illustrates. David "humbled" himself when he owned, "I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me" (Ps. 119:75). He took sides with God against himself, and acknowledge his unrighteousness.
Until the stricken one has humbled himself it is vain to think of proceeding farther, for pride and impenitence bar any approaches unto the Holy One. But "if" we have duly "humbled" ourselves, second, "and pray." Only as we take our place in the dust before Him can we truly do so. And for what will such a one make request? Surely for a deeper sense of God’s holiness and of his own vileness: for a broken and contrite heart. Accompanying his "humbling" and as an expression thereof, there will be the penitent confession, and that will be followed by a begging for faith in God’s mercy and a hope of cleansing and restoration. Third, "and seek My face," which goes farther than "and pray": expressing diligence, definiteness, and fervour. The omniscient One cannot be imposed upon by mere lip-service, but requires the heart. There has to be a face-to-face meeting with the One we have displeased: He will not gloss over our sins; nor must we. Hosea 14:2, 3, should be made use of, for the Lord has there made known the very words which we may appropriately use on such occasions. Fourth, "and turn from their wicked ways" (which had brought judgment upon them) has the same force as "forsake" our sins in Proverbs 28:13.
"Then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." Here is the gracious promise. But mark well its opening "Then": only when we have fully met its conditions. We have no warrant to look for its fulfillment until its qualifying terms are observed by us. Note, too, its blessed scope: a hearing from God is obtained, His forgiveness is assured, and His healing is available for faith to claim. Say, Lord I have by Thy grace, and to the best of my poor ability humbled myself, sought Thy face, and renounced my wicked ways; now do as Thou hast said: "heal my land" — whether it be my body, my loved one, or my estate. Remove Thy rod, and let Thy providential smile come upon me again. Make a believing use of and plead before God the promises of Hosea 14:4-8! "According unto your faith be it unto you" (Matt. 9:29) is most pertinent at this point. God is pledged to honour faith, and never does He fail those who trust Him fully; no, not when they count upon Him to work a miracle for them, as this writer can humbly but thankfully testify. How many Christians live below their privileges!
"Jehovah-rophi" ("the Lord that healeth thee": Ex. 15:26) is as truly one of the Divine titles as "Jehovah-tsidkneu" ("the Lord our righteousness": Jer. 23:5), yet how very few of His own people count upon Him as such; but instead, act like worldlings in such a crisis and put their confidence in human physicians. Is it possible for one who through long-continued self-indulgence has missed God’s best and brought down upon himself and family temporal adversity, to be fully recovered and restored to His favour? Who can doubt it in the light of this precious, but little-known promise, "I will restore to you the years the locusts hath eaten" (Joel 2:25)! Is not the One with whom we have to do "the God of all grace" (1 Peter 5:10);then who is justified in placing any limitation thereon! Yet, let it not be overlooked that Divine grace ever works "through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21) and never at the expense of it, as it would if God were to make light of sin and condone our transgressions. And let it also be carefully borne in mind that the Divine promises are addressed to faith, and must be personally appropriated by us in childlike confidence if we are to enjoy the good of them. "All things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23).
Let the reader turn to the prophet Joel and ponder the whole of chapter 1 and the first eleven verses of 2. Israel had sinned grievously and repeatedly, and the Lord had smitten them severely. But at 2:12, we read, "Therefore [in view of these chastisements, particularly the plague of locusts] also now, saith the Lord, turn ye to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning. And rend your heart and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Himself of the evil." Then, because in this instance the whole nation was involved, the Lord gave orders for them to "Sanctify a fast" and to "call a solemn assembly," bidding "the ministers of the Lord weep before the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach"; assuring them "Then will the Lord be jealous for His land, and pity His people," promising "I will send you corn and wine and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith . . . I will remove the northern army [His scourge] . . . Fear not O land, be glad and rejoice for the Lord will do great things" (2:15, 21).
Then follow those blessed words, "Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God . . . I will restore to you the years that the locusts hath eaten. Upon their compliance with those aforementioned requirements of God, that promise was left for faith to lay hold of and for hope to count upon. And think you, my reader, that the promise was placed on record only for the benefit of those who lived thousands of years ago? Surely, we have good reason to say, as the apostle did in another connection, "It was not written for his sake alone . . . but for us also" (Rom. 4:23,24). Yes, nevertheless, it avails us nothing unless faith lays hold of and makes it our own. Once more we quote that declaration "according to your faith be it unto you, reverently reminding the Calvinistic reader that those are not the words of James Arminius, but of God the Son. If ever there is one time more than another when we have need to cry "Lord, increase our faith" it is when we are pleading 1 John 1:9, and more especially when looking to God for a full restoration to His best and counting upon His fulfilling Joel 2:25, unto us.
Many other passages might be quoted, both from Old and New Testaments, which illustrate the principle and fact which we have demonstrated, wherein we have shown that if we conduct ourselves contrary to the revealed will of God we shall certainly suffer for it both in soul and in body, that if we follow a course of self-pleasing we shall deprive ourselves of those spiritual and temporal blessings which the Word of God promises to those whose lives are ordered by its precepts. The teaching of Holy Writ is too clear to admit of any doubt that it makes a very real and marked difference whether a Christian’s ways please or displease the righteous Ruler of this world: the difference of whether God be for him or against him—not in the absolute sense, but in His governmental and providential dealings. Sufficient should have been adduced to convince any candid mind that God acts towards His saints today on precisely the same basis as He did with them under the old economy, that His ways with them are regulated by the same principles now as then. This supplies a solution to many a problem and explains not a little in God’s dealings with us—as it furnishes the key to Jacob’s chequered life, and shows why the chastening rod of God fell so heavily upon David and his family.
Nevertheless much of what has been presented is no doubt new and strange to many, if not to most of our readers. Alas, that it should be so, for what can be of greater practical importance than for the Christian to be instructed in how to please God and have His providential smile upon his life? What is more needed today than to warn him against the contrary, specifying what will forfeit the same; and to make known the way of recovery to one who has missed God’s best? How very much better for preachers to devote themselves unto such subjects, rather than culling sensational items from the newspapers or the radio to "illustrate" their vain speculations upon Prophecy. So too, how much more profitable than for them to deliver abstract disquisitions upon what are termed "the doctrines of grace," or uttering contentious declamations against those who repudiate the same. The practical side of the truth is sadly neglected today, and in consequence not only are many of God’s dear children living far below their privileges, but they have never been taught what those privileges are, nor what is required in order for them to enjoy them in this life.
Since the ground we have been covering is so unfamiliar to many, we felt it would not be satisfactory for us to end here. Though what we have advanced is so clearly and fully based upon and confirmed by the teaching of God’s Word, yet probably various questions have arisen in the minds of different readers to which they would welcome an answer, difficulties raised in their thoughts which they would like to have removed. It is only right that we should squarely face the principal objections which are likely to be made against what we have said. Yet, let it be pointed out, first, that no objection brought against anything which is clearly established from the Word can possibly invalidate it, for Scripture never contradicts itself. And second, that our inability to furnish a satisfactory solution is no proof that our teaching is erroneous—a child can ask questions which no adult can answer. In all the ways and works of God there is, to us, an element of mystery: necessarily so, for the finite cannot comprehend the infinite. The wisest among God’s saints and servants now see through a glass darkly and know but "in part," and therefore it is their wisdom to pray daily "that which I see not, teach Thou me" (Job 34:32).
Yet, while acknowledging that there is an element of mystery, profound and impenetrable, that is far from saying that God has left His people in darkness, or that they have neither the capacity nor the means of knowing scarcely anything about the principles which regulate the Most High in His dealings with the children of men. If, on the one hand, it be true that His judgments "are a great deep" (Ps. 36:6), that "Thy way is in the sea, and Thy path in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known" (Ps. 77:19) to carnal reason; an the other hand, we are told "He discovereth deep things out of darkness" (Job 12:22) and "He revealeth the deep and secret things" (Dan. 2:22). While it be true that God’s judgments are unsearchable and His ways ‘past finding out" (Rom. 11:33) by human wisdom; yet it is also true, blessedly true, that "in Thy light shall we see light" (Ps. 36:9), that "He made known His ways unto Moses" (Ps. 103:7). In His Word the Lord has been pleased to make known unto us not a little, and it is our privilege and duty to thankfully receive all the light which God has therein vouchsafed us; to attempt to go beyond it, to enter into speculation, is not only useless, but impious.
1. How is it possible for any person to "miss God’s best," since He has foreordained everything that comes to pass (Rom. 11:36), and therefore has eternally appointed the precise lot and portion of each individual? That, we think, is a fair and frank way of stating the principal objection which Calvinists are likely to make. Our first reply is, Such an objection is quite beside the point, for in these articles we are not discussing any aspect of God’s sovereignty, but rather are treating of that which concerns human responsibility. If the rejoinder be made, But human responsibility must not be allowed to crowd out the essential and basic fact of God’s sovereignty, that is readily granted; nor, on the other hand, must our adherence to God’s sovereignty be suffered to neutralize or render nugatory the important truth of man’s responsibility. One part of the Truth must never be used to nullify another part of it: both Romans 11:36, and Galatians 6:7, must be given their due places. When we attempt to philosophize about God’s sovereignty and human accountability we are out of our depth. They are to be received by faith, and not reasoned about. Each of them is plainly taught and enforced in the Scriptures, and both must be held fast by us, whether or no we perceive their "consistency."
Nothing is easier than to raise difficulties and objections. If some of the "hypers" prefer reasoning to the actings of faith, let us meet them on their own ground for a moment and give them some questions to exercise their minds upon. "Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?" (1 Sam. 23:12). It is unmistakably evident from the sequel that God had ordained David should escape; yet He answered, "They will deliver thee up. Query: How could they, since God had decreed otherwise! "Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times, then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it; whereas thou shalt smite Syria but thrice" (2 Kings 13:9). Query: what possible difference to the issue could be made by the number of times the king smote upon the ground? If God had predestinated that Syria should be "consumed," could any failure in the faith of Joash prevent or even modify it? On the other hand, do not those words of Elisha plainly signify that the extent to which Israel would vanquish Syria turned upon the measure of the king’s appropriation of the promise "for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphec till thou hast consumed them"? Which horn of the dilemma does the reasoner prefer?
Again, when the wicked Haman induced Ahasueras to seal the decree written in his name, that all the Jews scattered abroad throughout his kingdom should be slain on a certain day, Mordecai was grief-stricken by the terrible news. Esther sent one of the royal chamberlains to ascertain the cause of his sorrow. Whereupon her uncle handed the messenger a copy of the decree to show unto Esther, with the charge that "she should go in unto the king to make supplications unto him" (4:8). Esther sent back the messenger to Mordecai to say, ‘Whosoever, whether man or woman, shall go unto the king in the inner court who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days." To which Mordecai replied, "If thou holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed" (verse 14). Query: if God had eternally purposed that the Jews should be delivered through the intervention of Esther, how could it possibly come "from another place" and she and her family be destroyed!
If our minds be dominated by our outlook upon life, narrowed down to a consideration of the inexorableness of the Divine determinations, then a spirit of irresponsibility will necessarily ensue. It is with the revealed and not with the secret will of God we need to be concerned. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed [in His Word] belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this Law" (Deut. 29:29). It is the Divine precepts and promises which are to engage our attention. "According unto your faith be it unto you" (Matt. 9:29) said Christ, not "according unto the Divine decrees." Are we intimating that faith can set aside the Divine decrees or obtain something superior to them? Certainly not: instead, we are pointing out where the great Teacher placed His emphasis. We must not resolve all of God’s dealings with us into bare sovereignty: to do so is to lose sight of His righteousness. The unbalanced teaching of hyper-Calvinism has produced a most dangerous lethargy — unperceived by them, but apparent to "lookers on." Those who dwell unduly upon the Divine decrees are in peril of lapsing into the paralysis of fatalism. There were times when even Mr. Philpot felt that, as the following quotations from his writings will show:
"However sovereign the dispensations of God are, no one who fears His great name should so shelter himself under Divine sovereignty as to remove all blame from himself. When the Lord asks ‘hast thou not procured this to thyself?’ the soul must needs reply, Yea, Lord, I surely have. This is a narrow line, but one which everyone’s experience, where the conscience is tender, will surely ratify. Though we can do nothing to comfort our own souls, to speak peace to our own conscience, to bring the love of God into our hearts, to apply the balm of Gilead to bleeding wounds, and summon the great Physician to our bedside, we may do many things to repel this moment what we would seem to invite the next . . . We cannot make ourselves fruitful in every good word and work, but we may by disobedience and self-indulgence bring leanness into our souls, barrenness into our frames, deadness into our hearts, and in the end much guilt upon our consciences" (Sermon on Jer. 8:22). The same writer when exposing the error of nonchastisement said, "It nullifies the eternal distinction between good and evil, and makes it a matter of little real moment whether a believer walk in obedience or disobedience." Then let those who have succeeded him devote more of their endeavors into pressing God’s precepts upon His people, and stressing the necessity, importance, and value of an obedient walk; and in faithfully showing the serious losses incurred by disobedience.
2. To affirm that our having God’s blessing upon us is the consequence of the Christian’s pleasing of Him, may appear unto some as derogatory unto Christ, as militating against His merits. They will ask, Does not the believer owe every blessing to the alone worthiness of his Surety? Answer: that is to confound things which differ. We must distinguish between God’s sovereign will as the originating cause, the work of Christ as the meritorious cause, the operation and application of the Spirit as the efficient cause, and the repentance, faith and obedience of the Christian as the instrumental cause. Keep each of those in its order and place and there will be no confusion. If that be too abstruse, let us put it this way. Is not Christ most glorified by them when His redeemed follow the example which He has left them and walk as He also walked (1 John 2:6)? If so, will not the governmental smile of God be upon such? Conversely, would God be honoring His beloved Son if His providences were favorable unto those who act in self-will, rather than in subjection to their Master? Further, if God’s present rewarding of our obedience impugn the merits of Christ, then equally so will the future rewarding He has promised, for neither time nor place can make any difference in the essential nature of things.
It is so easy for us to mar the fair proportions of Truth and destroy its perfect symmetry. In our zeal, there is ever the tendency to take one aspect of Truth and press it so far as to cancel out another. Not only so in causing God’s sovereignty to oust human responsibility, but to make the merits of Christ bar God from exercising His perfections in the present government of this world. Some have gone so far as to blankly deny that God ever uses the rod upon His children, arguing that Christ bore and took away all their sins, and therefore God could not chasten them for their transgressions without sullying the sufficiency of His Son’s atonement, thereby repudiating Psalm 89:30-32; Hebrews 12:5-11. Here too we must distinguish between things that differ. It is important for us to see that while the penal and eternal consequences of the believer’s sins have been remitted by God, because atoned for by Christ, yet the disciplinary and temporal effects thereof are not cancelled—otherwise he would never be sick or die. God never chastens His people penally or vindictively, but in love, in righteousness, in mercy, according to the principles of His government: rewarding them for their obedience, chastening for their disobedience, and thereby and therein Christ is honored and not dishonored.
3. Since all God’s actings unto His people proceed from His uncaused, amazing, and super-abounding grace, how can it be maintained that He regulates His dealings with them according to their conduct? Easily, for there is nothing incompatible between the two things: they are complementary and not contradictory. As all the perfections of God are not to be swallowed up in His sovereignty, neither are they all to be merged into His grace. God is holy as well as benignant, and His favors are never bestowed in disregard of His purity. Divine grace never sets aside the requirements of Divine righteousness. When one has been truly saved by grace, he is taught to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and if he fails to do so, then the rod of God falls upon him. David was as truly saved by grace through faith, apart from any good works, as was the apostle Paul; but he was also required to be "holy in all manner of conversation" as are the New Testament saints; and when he failed to be so, severe chastening was his portion. And it was grace, though holy and righteous grace, which dealt thus with him, that he "should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32).
The Christian needs to be viewed not only as one of God’s elect—one of His high favorites, and not only as a member of the Father’s family, and as such amenable to His paternal discipline, but also as a human being, a moral agent, a subject of God’s government, and therefore is he dealt with accordingly by the Ruler of this world. As such, God has appointed an inseparable connection between conduct and the consequences it entails, and therefore is He pleased to manifest, by His providences, His approbation or His disapprobation of our conduct. It is not that the one who walks in the paths of righteousness thereby brings God into his debt, but that He condescends to act toward us according to the principle of gracious reciprocity. No creature can possibly merit aught good at the hands of God, for if he rendered perfect and perpetual obedience, he has merely performed his duty, and hath profited God—essentially considered—nothing whatever. Moreover, the recompense itself is a free gift, an act of pure grace, for God is under no compulsion or obligation to bestow it.
4. When pointing out in connection with "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief" (Matt. 13:28) that "Unbelief is the great obstacle to Christ’s favors" (Matthew Henry), that they closed the door upon His deeds of mercy, it may be thought by some that we are approving the horrible impiety that the creature has the power to thwart the Creator. And when we emphatically deny any such idea, objectors are likely to ask, But how can you escape such a consequence? Easily: faith is God’s own prescribed ordinance, and therefore He is in no wise checkmated when He refuses to act contrary to His own appointed way. Obviously, He is by no means obliged to set a premium on unbelief or countenance contempt of His means. Mark 6 expresses it more strongly: "He could there do no mighty works," etc. (verse 5). When it is said God "cannot lie" and "cannot be tempted with evil "so far from signifying any limitation of His power, the perfection of His holiness is intimated. So with Christ. Among a people who were "offended in Him" because they regarded Him as "the carpenter," no moral end had been furthered by His dazzling their eyes with prodigies of His might, and therefore He cast not His pearls before swine.
5. Another class of readers, viz., those who have imbibed the poison of "dispensationalism" will complain that our teaching in these discourses is legalistic, confounding the old and new covenants, that God’s dealings with Jacob, David, and the nation of Israel furnish no parallel with His conduct toward us in this era. But that is a serious mistake. There is far more of essential oneness between the administration of those two economies than there was incidental divergencies, as Calvin long ago demonstrated in his Institutes—see his chapters upon "The Similarity of the Old and New Testaments" and "The Difference of the two Testaments." The principal difference between the Mosaic and Christian dispensations was neither in "the way of salvation," the spiritual portion of God’s children, nor the principles of His government; but rather that spiritual things were presented to their view largely under types and shadows, whereas we have the substance itself openly set before us. Beneath all the trivial contrasts there is a fundamental unity between them, and it betrays a very superficial mind which delights in magnifying those contrasts, while ignoring or denying their basic oneness. But, as we have shown, the New Testament teaching on our present subject is identical with that of the Old, "Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord" (Eph. 6:8) is both an echo and summary of the Law and the Prophets.
The underlying unity of the two Testaments is plainly intimated in that Divine declaration "whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4). But what could we "learn" from God’s dealings with His people of old if He be now acting according to radically different principles? Nothing at all. Nay, in such a case it would follow that the less we read the Old Testament the better for us, for we should only be confused. The fact is that the principles of God’s government are like Himself—immutable, the same in every age. "Righteousness and judgment" (Ps. 97:2) are just as truly the "habitation of His throne" today as when He cast out of heaven the apostate angels, and as when He destroyed the antediluvians—which was long before Moses! That God now deals with Christians on precisely the same basis as He did with the children of Israel, is unequivocally established by 1 Corinthians 10:6, where, after describing the privileges they had enjoyed and God’s overthrowing them in the wilderness because of their unbelief, we are told "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted": that is, they are real and solemn warnings for us to take to heart, specimens of those judgments which will befall us if we emulate their sinful conduct.
Nay, Scripture requires us to go yet farther. So far from the higher blessings of this Christian era lessening our responsibility, they much increase them. The greater our privileges, the greater our obligations. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48), as the one who received five talents was required to yield more than those who received but one or two. "He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses, of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God!" (Heb. 10:28, 29) The principle of that verse clearly signifies that the more light we have been favored with the deeper are our obligations, and the greater the guilt incurred when those obligations are not met. "But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared" (Ps. 130:4). Yes, "feared" and not trifled with, by giving free rein to our lusts. A true apprehension of Divine mercy will not embolden unto sin, but will deepen our hatred of it, and make us more diligent in striving against it. Those who "know the grace of God in truth" (Col. 1:6)—in contrast with the ones who have merely a theoretical knowledge of it — so far from being careless of their ways and indifferent to the consequences, will be most diligent in endeavoring to please and glorify Him who has been so good to them.
6. Some are likely to complain that our teaching is too idealistic and impracticable, that we have presented an unattainable standard, arguing that in our present condition it is impossible to enjoy God’s best if that be dependent upon our daily life being well-pleasing unto Him. We shall be reminded that only one Perfect Man has trod this earth, and that while the flesh indwells the Christian, failures and falls are inevitable. Nor should we be surprised at fault being found with that which rebukes the low level of Christian experience in this decadent age: those that are at ease in Zion do not welcome anything which searches the conscience and is calculated to arouse them from their deplorable apathy. But the One with whom each of us has to do declares, "Be ye holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16), and therefore does He bid us "Awake to righteousness, and sin not" (1 Cor. 15:34), "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh unto the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:14), "He that saith he abideth in Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked" (1 John 2:6). But we have not said that our enjoyment of God’s smile is dependent upon our actually measuring up to that standard, though nothing short of it must be our constant aim and earnest endeavour. There is a great difference between a relative falling short of that standard and a life of defeat, between daily trespasses and being the slave of some dominant lust. Had we said that one must lead a sinless life in order to enter into God’s best, the above complaint had been pertinent. But we have not. If the heart be true to God, if it be our sincere desire and diligent effort to please the Lord in all things, then His approbation and blessing will certainly be upon us. And if such really be our intention and striving, then it will necessarily follow that we shall mourn over our conscious failures in missing that mark and will promptly and contritely confess the same—it is by that we may test and prove the genuineness of our sincerity. It is not the sins of a Christian, but his unconfessed sins, which choke the channel of blessing and cause so many to miss God’s best.
What has just been stated is clearly established by "he that covereth his sins shall not prosper" (Prov. 28:13). It is always an inexcusable and grievous thing for a saint to commit any sin, yet it is far worse to refuse to acknowledge the same: that is to "add sin to sin" (Isa. 30:1); yea, it evinces a spirit of defiance. So far from such a one prospering, he closes the door against God’s favors (Jer. 5:24). As the hiding of a disease prevents any cure, so to stifle convictions, seek to banish them from the mind, and then try and persuade ourselves that all is well, only makes bad matters worse. None but the penitent confessor can be pardoned (Ps. 32:5; 1 John 1:9). In the great majority of cases the chief reason why believers miss God’s best is because they fail to keep short accounts with Him. They do not make conscience of what the world regards as innocent blemishes and which empty professors excuse as "trifling faults." And the result is that the conscience becomes comatose, laxity is encouraged, the Holy Spirit is grieved, Satan gains increasing power over him, and his unrepented sins hide God’s face from him (Isa. 59:2).
7. It may be inquired, How do you harmonize your teaching that God’s frown is upon His people while they follow a course of self-will and self-gratification, when it is written "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Ps. 103:10)? Answer: there is nothing to harmonize, for the two things in no wise conflict. That Scripture is not speaking of God’s present governmental dealings, but of what took place at conversion, when the penal consequences of all our sins were remitted. That is clear from what immediately follows, for after extolling the exalted character of God’s mercy, the Psalmist declared "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us" (verses 11, 12). God hath not dealt with the one who savingly believes the Gospel "after his sins," because He laid them upon his Surety and dealt with Him accordingly; and being infinitely just, the Divine Judge will not exact payment twice. Therefore, instead of rewarding him according to his iniquities he recompenses him according to the merits of his Redeemer.
If that were not the meaning of Psalm 103:10, we should make the Scriptures contradict themselves—an evil against which we need ever to be upon our guard. Psalm 89:30-32, shows that God does deal with His disobedient children according to their sins—in a disciplinary way, in this life—expressly declaring that "then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes." And yet there is a very real and blessed sense in which the principle of the former passage applies here too. For, first, God is not severe and rigorous in marking every offence: if our love be warm and the general course of our conduct pleases Him, He passes by our non-willful sins. And, second, God does not chasten immediately when we offend Him, but graciously grants us space for repentance, that the rod may be withheld. Third, He does not chasten us fully, according to our deserts, but tempers His righteousness with mercy. Even when plying the rod upon us "His compassions fail not," and therefore "we are not consumed" (Lam. 3:22). God dealt so with His people under the old economy: Ezra 9:13;Psalm 130:3!
8. Notwithstanding what has just been pointed out, the objection is likely to be made: Such teaching as yours is calculated to afford very "cold consolation" to some of God’s afflicted people; you are acting only as a "Job’s conforter" to them. Nor is such a demur to be wondered at in a day when the claimant cry of an apostate Christendom is "Speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isa. 30:10). Though that be the language of the unregenerate, yet when Christians are in more or less of a backslidden condition, only too often that becomes the desire of their hearts also; and when the rod of God be upon them they crave pity and sympathy rather than love’s faithfulness. What such souls most need is help, real help and not maudlin sentimentality. To give soothing syrup to one needing a bitter purgative is not an act of kindness. The chastened one requires to be reminded that God "does not afflict willingly," then urged to "search and try his ways and turn again to the Lord" (Lam. 3:40), and assured that upon true confession he will be forgiven.
9. But it may be objected, Did not David deeply repent of, contritely confess, and sincerely forsake his sins in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah, yet God’s rod was not removed from him and his family! That is, admittedly a more difficult question to answer. Nor should we look to the absolute sovereignty of God for its solution, for rather would that be cutting the knot instead of endeavoring to untie it. It should be evident to all that David’s was no ordinary case, and that his sins were such as the Mosaic law called for capital punishment. Moreover, his iniquities were greatly aggravated by virtue of the position which he occupied: as a prophet, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, their king. Crimes committed by those in high civic or ministerial office are far more heinous and involve graver consequences than do those same crimes when committed by private persons. Therefore, though the Lord "forgave the iniquity of his sin" (Ps. 32:5), yet He declared "The sword shall never depart from thine house" (2 Sam. 12:10). The guilt and penal effects were remitted, but the governmental consequences remained.
"Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also born unto thee shall surely die" (2 Sam. 12:14). And though he "besought God for the child, and fasted, and lay all night upon the earth," it was in vain; the sin of the father was visited upon the son, to show that God was "no respecter of persons" even where a monarch, and one beloved by Himself, was involved. And "the sword" never did depart from his house, for one after another of his sons met with a violent end. Such transgressions of Israel’s king received no ordinary chastisements from God, to show that He would not countenance such actions, but vindicate His honour by manifesting His abhorrence of them. Thus, the governmental consequences of David’s sins not being remitted upon his repentant confession is to be accounted for on the ground of his public character. Another example or illustration of the same principle is found in the case of Moses and Aaron, who because of their unbelief at Meribah, being Israel’s leaders, were debarred from entering Canaan (Num. 20:12, 24).
10. As our readers have pondered the foregoing thoughts, it is probable that not a few have reverted in their minds to the experiences of Job, and wondered how it is possible to square with them the substance of what we have been writing. Obviously it is quite outside our present scope to enter upon anything like a full discussion of the book which describes the severe trials of that holy patriarch. Four brief statements must here suffice. First, that book presents to our notice something which is extraordinary and quite unique, as well as profoundly mysterious, namely, the position which Satan there occupies and his challenge of the Lord (Job 1:6-12). Second, it is therefore unwarrantable for us to appeal to the experiences of Job in this connection, for his case was entirely unprecedented. That which was there involved was not any controversy which God had with Job, but rather His contest with Satan in evidencing him to be a liar, disproving his charge that Job served God only for the benefit which he derived from Hun for the same.
Satan’s attack was not upon the patriarch, but was aimed at the Lord Himself, being tantamount to saying, Thou art incapable of winning the confidence and love of man by what Thou art in Thyself: deal roughly and adversely with him, and Thou wilt find that so far from him delighting in Thee and remaining loyal to Thee, he "will curse Thee to Thy face." Thus the excellency of the Divine character was thereby impugned and His honour challenged. The Lord condescended to accept Satan’s challenge, and in the sequel demonstrate the emptiness of it by delivering His servant Job into His enemy’s hand and permitting him to afflict him severely in his estate, his family, and in his own person. The central theme and purpose of the book of Job is not only missed, but utterly perverted, if we regard its contents as a description of God’s chastening of Job for his sins (or "self-righteousness"), rather than a vindicating of His own honour and giving the lie to Satan’s accusation by the making of Job’s love and faith evident. So far from his cursing God, Job said, "Blessed be the name of the Lord," and after Satan had done his worst, "though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."
Third, before Satan was allowed to lay a finger on Him, the Lord expressly declared of Job "There is none like him in the earth: a perfect [sincere] and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil" (1:8). Thus, at the outset, all ground for uncertainty of Job’s moral condition is removed. The very fact that the first verse of the book contains such an affirmation renders it quite excuseless for anyone to conclude that in what follows we see the Lord dealing with Job on the ground that he had done something which displeased Him. Instead, no other saint in all the Scriptures is more highly commended by the Holy Spirit. Fourth, it should be carefully borne in mind that the book closes by informing us that "the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before," that "The Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning" (42:10, 16). Thus, so far from conflicting with or contradicting our thesis that the righteous prosper, that the providential smile of God rests upon those whose ways please Him, the case of Job is a striking proof this very thing!
11. The sufferings of our blessed Lord prior to the cross may present a difficulty unto a few in this connection. There was One who "set the Lord always before Him" (Ps. 16:8) and who could aver "I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29). How then are we to account for the fact that He was "The Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," that from the hour of His birth into this world unto His death, trial and tribulation, suffering and adversity, was His portion? Surely that should not occasion a problem or call for much elucidation. All of Christ’s sufferings were due to sin: not His own, but his Church’s. God would not allow an innocent person to suffer, much less His beloved Son to be unrighteously afflicted at the hands of the wicked. We never view aright the ill-treatment and indignities Christ experienced, both before and throughout His ministerial life, until we recognize that from Bethlehem to Calvary He was the vicarious Victim of His people, bearing their sins and suffering the due reward of their iniquities. He was "made under the Law" (Gal. 4:4), and as the Surety of transgressors was therefore born under its curse. At the moment of His birth the sword of Divine justice was unsheathed and returned not to its scabbard.
12. Others may ask, What about the severe and protracted sufferings of the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 11:23-27). They were neither extraordinary, like Job’s, nor vicarious like Christ’s! True, and that leads us to make this important observation: let none conclude from these articles that all suffering is to be regarded as retributive. That would be just as real a mistake as the one made by those who go to another extreme and suppose that all the suffering of saints is remedial, designed for purification and the development of their graces—which has provided a welcome sop for many an uneasy conscience! The subject of suffering is a much wider one than what has been dealt with in these articles, wherein but a single phase—the retributive—has been dealt with. It would take us too far afield to enter upon a systematic discussion of the whole problem of human sufferings, yet it is necessary for us to point out several important distinctions. Some suffering is to be attributed to the sovereignty of God (John 9:2, 3), yet we believe such cases are few in number.
Some suffering is due to heredity (Ex. 20:5): the whole of Achan’s family were stoned to death for their father’s sin (Josh. 7:24, 25), and the leprosy of Naaman was judicially inflicted upon Gehazi and his children (2 Kings 5:7). Much suffering is retributive, a personal reaping of what we have sown. Some is remedial or educative (2 Cor. 4:16,17; James 1:2,3), fitting for closer communion with God, and increased fruitfulness. Other suffering is for righteousness’ sake, for the Gospel’s sake, and Christ’s sake (Mart. 5:10, 11), which was what the apostle experienced, and which the whole "noble army of martyrs" endured at the hands of pagan Rome, when Christians were cast to the lions, and equally at the hands of Papal Rome, when countless thousands were vilely tortured and burned at the stake, and which would be repeated today if the pope and his cardinals had the power, for "semper idem" (always the same) is one of their proud boasts. We must distinguish sharply then between "tribulation" or persecution (John 16:33; 2 Tim. 3:12) for righteousness’ sake, and Divine chastisement because of our sins.
There is no valid reason why the Christian should be confused in his mind by the above distinctions: nor will he be if he notes carefully the Scripture references given to them. Our purpose in drawing them was not only for the sake of giving completeness to these thoughts, and to supply preachers with a rough outline on the wider subject of "suffering," but chiefly in order to point a warning. It is entirely unwarrantable for us to conclude from the sight of an afflicted saint that he or she has missed God’s best and is being chastised for his or her offences, though very often such is undoubtedly the case. But in our own personal experience, when God’s providential smile be no longer upon us, and especially if the comforts of His Spirit be withdrawn from us, then it is always the wisest policy to assume that God is manifesting His displeasure at something in our lives, and therefore should we definitely, humbly and earnestly beg Him to convict us of wherein we have offended, and grant us grace to contritely confess and resolutely forsake the same.
The two forms of suffering most commonly experienced by the great majority of Christians are retributive—for their faults, and honorary—for the Truth’s sake: though where there is much of the one there is rarely much of the other. Nor should there be any difficulty in identifying each of them, except that we must not mistake as the latter that coldness and estrangement of friends which is due to our own boorishness, for not a few pride themselves they are suffering for their faithfulness when in reality they are being rebuked and ostracized for their uncharitableness, or "as a busybody in other men’s matters" (1 Pet. 4:15). A close and humble walking with God, an uncompromising cleaving to the path of His commandments is sure to stir up the enmity and evoke the opposition of the unregenerate, especially of empty professors, whose worldliness and carnality are condemned thereby. But whatever persecution and tribulation be encountered for that cause is a privilege and honour, for it is a having fellowship with Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet. 4:13), and such should "rejoice that they, are counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41). It is the absence of this type of suffering which evinces we are hiding our colors in order to avoid being unpopular.
Surely it is self-evident that the attitude of a holy God will be very different toward "a vessel wherein is no pleasure" (Hos. 8:8) and one who is "a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2:21). As we pointed out in an earlier article, an enjoyment of God’s best will not exempt from the common tricks and vicissitudes of life but will encure having them sanctified and blest to him, as it will also deliver from those troubles and afflictions in which the follies of many Christians involve them. "Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings" (Isa. 3:10), on which the Puritan, Caryl, said, "They shall have good for the good they have done, or according to the good which they have done. If any object, But may it not be ill with men that do good and are good? Doth the Lord always reward to man according to his righteousness? I answer, first, It is well at present with most that do well. Look over the sons of men, and generally ye shall find that usually the better they are, the better they live. Second, I answer, It shall be well with all that do well in the issue, and for ever" (vol. 10, p. 439).
Finally, we again urge upon young Christians to form the habit of keeping short accounts with God, to promptly confess every known sin unto Him, even though it be the same sin over and over again. There is no verse in all the Bible which this writer has made more use of and pleaded so frequently as 1 John 1:9. Failure at this point is a certain forerunner of trouble. Only too often Christians, particularly in seasons of temporal prosperity, will not take the time and trouble to search their hearts and lives for those things which displease the Holy One. Hence it is that God so often has occasion to take his refractory children apart from the world, laying them upon beds of sickness, or bringing them into situations where they will "consider their ways" (Hag. 1:5). If they then refuse to do so, they shall "suffer loss" (1 Cor. 3:15) eternally. It is greatly to be feared that not a few who will, by grace, enter the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ shall, through their own follies, fail to have "an abundant entrance" (2 Pet. 1:11) thereinto. O that neither writer nor reader may he among those saints who will be "ashamed before Him at His coming" (1 John 2:28). We shall not, if we put everything right between our souls and Him in the present!